Being a mom is tough. Some days it down-right stinks. A few nights ago my husband came back to our bed after mercifully fielding yet another EF-5 tantrum from our 4 year old (at one point she was naked and screaming while jumping on her bed…). He patted the blankets in the dark and finally asked, “Where are you?” “Hiding,” I mumbled from my fetal position in the corner of the bed, buried like a mouse under a mountain of fluff. After laying there listening to her frenzy and his calm voice trying to bring her back to some semblance of reason (did I mention he’s amazing?), I turned off the baby monitor and dug deep into my covers. I did what I have always done when overwhelmed, I hid.
I just got done watching “Inside Out” for what I am sure will be one of a thousand viewings. (If you are unfamiliar with the movie, it is an animation about what goes on inside the heads of people, showing 5 characters representing joy, sadness, disgust, anger, and fear.) I noticed that the mom’s primary emotion, the one that calls most of the shots is sadness. It seems the writers may be onto something fairly revealing about motherhood.
Eve was told there would be pain in bringing children up in this broken world. The violence of sin transformed the beauty of motherhood far beyond just painful childbirth. Loving my child means I break daily. I sacrifice my comfort daily. I vacillate between consuming joy and devastating worry. And I understand more than ever, the depth that is Jesus’ love for me.
When my first child was born, my heart felt full. It didn’t matter that I would have to wake again in 45 minutes, there were nights I would stay up just to watch her chest rise and fall a few more times. But my admiration for her was matched by the growing hostility I felt toward my husband. I would lay awake listening to him snore, and be screaming silently in my head, and fantasizing about physically harming him. I thought little of it, because my anger felt so justified at the time- I mean, he got to sleep!
After confiding in a friend who encouraged me to tell my doctor, I made an appointment. I mentioned my thoughts casually to the nurse and hoped it wouldn’t come up again. But my doctor came in and immediately exclaimed, “Elizabeth, is this you!?” I looked down at the chart, the nurse had written in quotes, “I want to punch my husband.”
The doctor told me that postpartum depression can manifest itself in many ways, including hostility toward a spouse. He encouraged me to start an anti-depressant. I went home that night and tried to explain to my husband our situation (talk about an awkward chat). Because I was breastfeeding we were both hesitant about taking an anti-depressant, and my sweet husband said he could handle my anger. So we decided to forego the medication.
A few weeks passed and what I thought were just normal mommy worries for my daughter’s well-being evolved into haunting visions of her being harmed, first by things outside of my control, and then later by my own hand. I couldn’t walk up a set of stairs, or pick up sharp objects when she was near me. I began to hear a voice tell me to hurt her.
One night, I stood over her bed, having finished nursing her and laid her down. The visions and voices screamed through me, and I ran from my room, unable to tell anymore what was reality and what was the chaos in my own mind. Every ounce of me loved my daughter. Never had I felt so selflessly in love, and yet that same body that had protected and nourished her life for 9 months had gone to war with itself. I fled my room, ran to the far end of my house and sobbed. I couldn’t even be in the same room as my child.
I went back to my doctor, sat in his chair clinging to my 3-month old baby, and cried uncontrollably. I couldn’t even get the words out. I had convinced myself that if I told anyone what I was going through, that they would take my child.
I started anti-depressants that same day, and within weeks was again enjoying motherhood. Though, even now there is healing to be done.
Bringing children into this world is miraculous and worth the hype for sure. But it’s ok, mama, to admit if some days are less than enjoyable. It’s ok, mama, to admit it if some of what got you to that sweet warm breath on your neck as you rock and hum and marvel, was in fact traumatizing. And it’s more than ok, even vital, for you to ask for help when you need it. You have not failed.
Give yourself the grace to accept help. And the grace to hide under the blankets and cry. But while you’re under there, give yourself the gift of a conversation with your own Creator. In his arms we are pressed but not crushed, troubled but not driven to despair. If anyone is going to understand the heartache of bearing children, it will be the God who bore the pain of the whole world so you could be his child. You are not alone. You are held, and you are brave.
I have always been very open about my experience with severe postpartum depression. When I got through it, I felt God speak over me, telling me that if I kept silent I would be overcome with shame. Studies show that up to 19% of women will experience postpartum depression on some level- that is almost 1-in-5. While my experience is unique- and admittedly severe, it can manifest itself in a multitude of ways. American Pregnancy Association has a great list of symptoms, and is a good place to start. If you are struggling, tell someone, there is no shame in it, and ultimately is the best choice for both you and your child. There is hope and healing!